Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Can someone teach me an easy way to remember which word to use when? Lie vs. Lay.


Celebrate Woo-Woo said...

That is the one I was never able to master...sorry;>

evil-e said...

I know this: That in order to find a good lay, once in a while one has to lie.

Seriously...I have no real idea if there actually is a difference. I just think lie sounds a little more proper.?

I am tired after running your gauntlet of posts

WNG said...

I know that there's a difference, but I'll have to check with Papa G the Grammar King to tell you what it is. I'll get back to you after lunch :)

Tara said...

I'm an English major and I still have problems with that one. I remember writing an essay for college once and was using the word "layed". The professor would put a note next to each usage and would say "layed eggs?". I took it to mean I wasn't using it properly.

NoRegrets said...

Woo, yeah, it's always gotten me. I think lay is active and lie passive, but I still get confused.

Evile-you need the exercise. ;-)

Thanks WNG!

Tara- :-)

M. Robert Turnage said...


If you exclude the meaning "to tell an untruth" and just focus on the setting/reclining meaning of lay and lie, then the important distinction is that lay requires a direct object and lie does not. So you lie down on the sofa (no direct object), but you lay the book down on the table (the book is the direct object).

This is in the present tense, where you are talking about doing something now: you lie down on the sofa, and you lay down a book.

There are a bunch of ways to remember this part.

The way I remember is to think of the phrase lay it on me. You're laying something (it, the direct object) on me. It's a catchy, dorky, 1970s kind of phrase, so I can remember it and remember that it is correct.

What's that I hear, music in the background? I know I don't normally play music, but I love Eric Clapton, and his song Lay Down Sally can actually help you remember the difference between lay and lie... [record screeching sound] because he's wrong.

To say “lay down Sally” would imply that someone should grab Sally and lay her down. If he wanted Sally to rest in his arms on her own, the correct line would be “lie down Sally.”

We don't have to judge Clapton on his grammar; we can still love his music and at the same time know that it's grammatically incorrect! In fact, that helps us remember, and we can love him more.

If you're more of a Bob Dylan fan, you can remember that "Lay Lady Lay" is also wrong. The lyrics should be “Lie lady lie, lie across my big brass bed.”

OK, so that was the present tense. It's pretty easy; you lay something down, people lie down by themselves, and Eric Clapton can help us remember.

But then everything goes all haywire, because lay is the past tense of lie. It's a total nightmare! I tried and tried to come up with a mnemonic for this, but I couldn't do it. Instead, I've made a table that you can print out from the website and tape up over your desk or in your notebook, because you just have to memorize this or look it up every time.

I'm going to tell you the words now, but if all goes as planned, I will also embed the table image into the podcast so that it will also show up as the album art for this episode, and you can follow along either on your computer monitor or on your mp3 player if you have one with a screen. I suppose you can even have the table with you at all times if you don't delete the episode and carry around your mp3 player. That is so cool! I love technology.

So, anyway, here's how to conjugate these two verbs:

The past tense of lie is lay, so

Last week, Steve lay down on the floor.
The cat lay in the mud after it rained yesterday.

The past tense of lay is laid, so

Last week, I laid the TPS report on your desk.
Mary forcefully laid her ring on the table.

The past participle of lie is lain, so

Steve has lain on the floor for days.
The cat has lain in the mud for hours.

The past participle of lay is laid, so

I have laid the TPS report on your desk.
Mary has forcefully laid her ring on the table.

Don't feel bad if you can't remember these right away. Practice will help, and truthfully, I still have to look them up every time I use them. It's just important to know what you know, and what you don't know, and to go to the trouble to look it up and get it right because these are hard-and-fast rules.

That's all.

NoRegrets said...

MRT, I may just remember after I manage to read all that. My eyes started glazing over when we got into past tense. But perhaps at some other time of day I can read it all. THANK YOU!

WNG said...

So here's what Papa G said - lay is used with an object, lie is a passive personal action. You lay something down, but you, yourself would lie down. He kept talking about other rules after that, but I tuned out...

Churlita said...

It sounds like you got your question answered very well.

I got stuck when people started talking about getting laid. Sorry.

heather said...

hey, i'm lucky i can remember weird is a weird word.

heather said...

and m.rt is right, if you ~know~ you tend to screw some things up remember that and check yourself. one of my BIGGEST pet peeves is someone in a position of authority using the wrong your, there or two. come on! look the shit up if you don't know!

The CEO said...

I just remember a chicken lays an egg, a person lies down. It works for me.

Tera said...

You think perhaps you should have asked MrT to write the post?